Wednesday June 19, 2024

Neoliberalism and Hindutva

By Amir Hussain
March 09, 2018

There have been some well-grounded arguments from critics like Arundhati Roy that the rise of India as a global player is shrouded in a neoliberal, anti-poor and essentially fascist religio-political framework of the Hindutva ideology.

This new turn in Indian politics, as critics like Arundhati believe, will dislodge the secular democratic ideals of what has been termed as the world’s largest postcolonial democracy. The rise of Hindutva, economic growth and democracy are aligned closely at the expense of excluding minorities, lower-caste Hindus and dissenting voices. This, in turn, enervates the ideological foundations of India’s national unity: secularism and pluralism.

It is interesting to note that the global reach of the neoliberal economic order coincides with the rise of extremists as the political saviours of the free market. India is a basket case of correlations between economic liberalisation, political extremism and cultural homogenisation. There is a well-entrenched political insanity propagated through Modi’s doctrine of transforming a secular India into a Hindu Rashtra that is supported by the corporate world. The reunion of the clergy, the government and the economy marks a new phase of global capitalism that plays havoc with the poor in the developing world by helping fascists assume power as both chauvinist consumers and brand leaders.

The false pride of the bubble economies in developing countries is founded on a fragile political order. This nexus of the North-South elite and the widening income disparities is not an inclusive model of economic development. There is a globalisation of poverty and opulence along with rising disparities within and across the borders of nation-states. India may be one of the model economies of neoliberal triumphalism and vertical growth for the rich. But it has become an ‘unlivable’ place for 800 million Indians who are living below the poverty line. The appalling living standards; rising suicide rates; growing separatist movements; the centrifugal drift through insurgencies; and vertical accumulation of wealth have become the defining features of Indian democracy.

There is a clear indication of vertical economic growth in India where 80 percent of total national wealth is owned by corporate giants and its affluent cronies. The richest Indian corporations are employing similar tactics as those adopted by the US-based Rockefeller and Ford foundations. According to Arundhati Roy, “the Rockefeller and Ford foundations have worked closely in the past with the State Department and Central Intelligence Agency to further the US government and corporate objectives”.

This nexus is not only about furthering economic objectives. In fact, there is strong evidence of close collaboration between these foundations and the US intelligence networks to promote the RSS brand of right-wing political ideology in India. The rise of the saffron brigade and the victimisation of minorities does not depict an isolated political evolution of Hindutva. Instead, it has been manufactured as a cost-effective way to protect corporate interests.

The corporate-sponsored mainstream Indian media has efficiently been used as an instrument of perception management. Being Indian, as the corporate media portrays, is diametrically opposed to the aspirations of the rural poor and the majority of Indians who have no access to an exploitative corporate economy. The upper middle class of India is also the beneficiary of an economic trickledown and, therefore, favours this simulated Indian nationalism. For lower-caste Hindus and the poor, who constitute 80 percent of the potential vote bank, the Modi regime has successfully used the anti-Muslim mantra and corporate money to lure them into the false glory of a shining India.

Like most religious seminaries in Pakistan, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) in India has been running schools that spew anti-Muslim sentiments among the youth. Most of the students enrolled at these schools consider Islam to be the real cause of their plight and poverty. They perceive the RSS to be a saviour that can rid the country of Muslims.

A Delhi-based Indian journalist provided firsthand accounts of BJP-led atrocities and the right-wing political discourse during a conference organised by the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) in Islamabad last week. One of the panelists at the conference also highlighted the key drivers of what he termed the “Modi-fied” economy of India. According to this account, there is a strong political connection between economic growth and the rising wealth of Modi-patronised Hindu temples. With billions of dollars at their disposal in the form of gold, these temples have the potential to bailout the Modi regime during an economic crisis. This new nexus of politics, the clergy and the economy is the most alarming threat to the Indian constitutional framework of secularism.

The rise of Hinduism as a religious identity is a colonial construct as Hinduism was never a single religion in India. The term Hind is rather a geographical connotation for the areas across the Indus Valley. Hind and Sindh were interchangeably used to describe the areas across the Indus and the people living here were called Hindus or Sindhus. So, anyone who lives in India, regardless of his/her faith, is essentially a Hindu. Quite contrary to the historical facts, the term ‘Hinduism’ today has become synonymous with the BJP’s political ideology of a fabricated nationalism.

Notwithstanding the political propaganda of the RSS, India is a land of opportunities, tremendous potential and peace-loving people. India has always been a melting pot of varying religious and ethnic identities that have coexisted for centuries with peace and harmony. The colonial experience has been the most detrimental part of Indian history when new political identities started to emerge under the legal and political duality of indirect British rule.

Pakistan and India are the products of this postcolonial legal and political duality, with newly-formed religious-based identities as a political instrument of divide and rule. It would be reductive to believe that everything was politically hunky-dory before the advent of British colonial rule. But it is difficult to deny the fact that people living in India had a history of peaceful coexistence, collective expression, art, culture and economic interdependence. Pakistan and India can find more historical, cultural, economic and geographical similarities than the political differences rooted in the colonial experience.

The Subcontinent is full of natural resources and hardworking people, with all requisite skills to transform the region into one of most developed parts of the world. What stops us from achieving high levels of development is a question that can never be answered through the political sloganeering of fascists on both sides of the political divide. In Pakistan, religious extremists have been used by the state as strategic assets that have now turned against those who want peace with India. The same is happening in India as well.

Ironically, extremist and fascist elements have dominated the mainstream political discourse and ideological instruments of the mass media in India despite its constitutional framework of secular democracy. In Pakistan, religious extremists have never dominated mainstream politics and their role has only been marginal in parliament. People have never voted for religious parties even though they live in an Islamic republic. India’s visible transition from a secular democracy to an Islamophobic, right-wing polity has been buttressed by international capitalism and corporate investment to prop up fascists as the icons of a consumerist economy.

This carefully-crafted political branding has worked well to sublimate the popular frustration against the system as a communal conflict. The globalisation of neoliberal economic fundamentalism has damaged the political and cultural fabric of India and resulted in detrimental economic outcomes for the poor. It is time for enlightened and progressive Indians to start building a political counter-narrative to the ideology of Hindutva and prevent the country from drifting into a fascist state.

The writer is a freelance columnist based in Islamabad.